Keeping Pea Puffer Fish in the Aquarium – This is How it Works

pea puffer fish This small representative of the pufferfish species is a real feast for the eyes: with its large eyes and tiny fins it fascinates every observer of the aquarium. The pea puffer fish is not only pretty, but also useful thanks to its preference for snails. The droll little fellow uses his fins like propeller blades and goes hunting for the next snail.

Pea pufferfish are characterful and funny fellows: their large and differently moving eyes and propeller fins can only be described as droll. In the following aquaristic guide we will show you how to keep the dwarf pufferfish in your aquarium and which fish are suitable for them.

Table of Contents

Origin and general information about the pea puffer

The pea pufferfish (Carinotetraodon travancoricus) belongs to the order of pufferfish relatives (Tetraodontiformes) and is a member of the pufferfish family (Tetraodontidae). The pea puffer belongs to the real freshwater puffer fish. It is native to India and Sri Lanka, where it lives in wetlands with stagnant and moderately flowing waters and strong plant growth. It is also known under the names Indian Dwarf Puffers and Dwarf Puffers.

pea puffer fish swimming

What do dwarf puffer fish look like?

The pea puffer fish has a roundish body with a high back. The basic colouring of the ornamental fish varies from light yellow to golden yellow. Numerous brown to almost black spots are irregularly distributed on the small fish body. Some of these small spots have a metallic shimmer with a turquoisehue.

The fins are semi-transparent and have an olive yellow tint. The dorsal and anal fins are on the same level and are set further back. Its appearance is dominated by its relatively large eyes. The dwarf puffer fish can move the eyes separately. In its relatively small mouth there are 4 teeth, which are constantly growing back. The pea puffer fish grows 2 to 3.5 cm in size and has a life expectancy of 2 to 4 years.

Are there gender differences between dwarf puffer fish?

Purely optically, the males and females of Carinotetraodon travancoricus are hardly distinguishable. Only when they are fully grown do the minimal differences between the sexes become clearer. In the males, the contrasting back colouring is more brownish, with a yellowish belly. In addition, the adult male pea puffer fish has so-called “wrinkles” behind the eyes and develops a dark longitudinal belly line when mature. This extends from the dorsal fin to the caudal fin.

Unfortunately, this line is differently pronounced and often difficult to recognize. In the females the pattern on the back is additionally interspersed with “freckles” and the belly colouring goes into the whitish. The colouring of the dwarf pufferfish depends on the health and state of mind. The impressing behaviour of the male Carinotetraodon travancoricus is supported by an intensive and contrasting colouring.

With which fish do you associate pea puffer fish?

The dwarf pufferfish is not a schooling fish, but nevertheless it should be kept in small groups – a typical group fish that needs social partners to live out its behaviour.

The pea-ball-fish is not only the smallest representative of the ball-fish, it is also relatively peaceful: Frictions exist only among the own Artgenossen. The male Carinotetraodon travancoricus form territories and a ranking is established. Fighting over territories takes place among the males of the species. It can be said that female dwarf pufferfish are merely tolerated. Rank fights with young animals are harmless and it does not degenerate into biting.

To prevent such fights, the aquarium must be sufficiently large and the number of males must be limited. The animals must be given sufficient hiding places and the tank must be delimited by decorative objects so that the animals can form and defend their territories. It also makes sense to keep the animals in small groups with predominantly female animals or in pairs. The average size of the male pea puffer fish is about 15 cm. Depending on the size of the aquarium the correct number of males can be calculated.

The more harmless type of collision between the male pea puffer fish is the display behaviour. The male dwarf pufferfish extends its belly keel. Then the broadside of the body is shown. Here you can clearly see the longitudinal abdominal line. Finally, the male puffer fish spirals up to the water surface in a circle. Arrived there either both males give up or one is driven away.

A socialization with lively and fast schooling fish with short fins can be done without any problems. Especially with Danionin or neon tetras, as well as larger catfish species, the socialization usually proceeds without great problems. Slower ornamental fish with long fins should not be socialized with the dwarf puffer fish, as the pea puffer fish has the habit of biting into the fins of other inhabitants and eating the bitten off particles.

Likewise, socialisation with invertebrates is not advisable, as they are considered a source of food. Especially shrimps and snails are on the menu of the droll aquarium inhabitants. There are certainly exceptions, such as Amano shrimp, as these adult ones reach a size that means they have nothing to fear. The offspring are more likely to be endangered.

How to breed dwarf puffer fish in the aquarium?

A breeding of the dwarf puffer fish in the aquarium has been successful several times. The pea puffer fish is sexually mature at the age of 5 months. Most of the time the two sexes ignore each other, but the male chases a female across the tank in phases. After a certain period of time the female lets the male animal approach her. After successful mating the female spawns. The spawn is also gladly deposited by fine plants or javamoos. The eggs are between 1 and 1.5 mm in size.  After 7 to 9 days the offspring hatch.

After hatching, the cubs feed on microorganisms in the aquarium, after another two to six days Artemia can be fed. To stimulate the reproduction of the adult animals, the water temperature and the food supply (mosquito larvae, Artemia) should be increased. In order to be able to celebrate breeding successes, however, the keeping conditions must be optimal, which is why a rearing and/or spawning aquarium is recommended for successful breeding.

The pair should be placed in the separate tank before spawning and removed from the offspring immediately after spawning, because like most ornamental fish, pea puffer fish tend to eat their spawn. The offspring can then be specifically fed after hatching. Young fish that are transferred to the large tank can react aggressively against the parent fish. However, no serious injuries were observed during this temporary phase.

Which water parameters does the pea puffer fish prefer in the aquarium?

The pea puffer fish has a robust nature. However, the basic requirements for the health and welfare of the animals must be met and especially when planning to socialize with other species, one should keep in mind the animals’ preference for relatively medium-hard water. The following water values should be observed:

Total hardness 5-20° dHG
Carbonate hardness 2-10° dKH
pH value 7,2-8,5
Temperature 24-27 degrees Celsius

The fresh water should have a temperature between 24 °C and 27 °C. The pH value can be between 7.2 and 8.5. The total hardness may vary between 5 and 20 °dGH. The pea puffer fish is not a schooling fish.

How to keep pea puffer fish in the aquarium?

Dwarf puffer fish are, as described above, not particularly aggressive aquarium inhabitants. They can therefore be socialized with various species without any problems. They can be kept either in pairs or in small groups (5 to 6 specimens). You can keep as many Zwegkugel fish in your aquarium:

Basin size Quantity of dwarf puffer fish
60-80 litres 2m and 3w
100-120 litres 3m and 4w
180-240 litres 3m and 6-7w
350-450 litres 4m-8w

With the dwarf puffer fish, the group should always consist mainly of females, as the males are territorial. An aquarium of at least 60 cm length is necessary for keeping them. Due to the body size of pea puffers a tank with a water volume of 45 l is possible. However, a minimum volume of 54 l is recommended here.

This is due to the characteristics of the male specimens – they form territories! The bottom of the tank can be filled up with fine gravel or sand. A dwarf puffer fish loves to dig into the sand and wait for its prey. In addition, there should be different types of moss (java moss) and roots. Important is a dense green planting (fine green plants, ferns) at the edges and in the corners. Because of their origin they love weedy corners as a hiding place.

Low-ranking animals must have sufficient opportunities for retreat. Floating plants at the upper edge of the pool are gladly accepted. With all this vegetation, it should not be forgotten to provide sufficient free swimming space. The pea puffer is not a great swimmer. The pea puffer fish likes to be in the open water and needs space for courtship and showing off.

What do dwarf puffer fish eat?

One of the most important points for the right keeping is to provide the pea puffer fish with the necessary nutrition. The dwarf puffer fish is constantly hungry. Besides, it is a food specialist, it only eats live food. Often a reason for buying pea puffer is a too large population of snails in the aquarium.

One should not forget that this “problem” is quickly eliminated. Afterwards, the owner has to provide for a rich supply of snails for nutrition. The pea puffer fish also eats mosquito larvae (white and red) and water fleas, but his favourite food are snails.

Due to its body size it can only eat small snails as food. Suitable for this purpose are ramshorn snails, pointed mud snails or small bubble snails. With its teeth it cracks the snail shell and slurps out the contents. The rest of the shell he leaves carelessly. The cracking of the shell is important for the wear of his teeth. The teeth are growing constantly and without enough hard shells or other means of wear and tear, the pea puffer could soon eat nothing. The teeth would close the small mouth.

If predominantly large snails (for example apple snails) are available, the owners must help the little guy. If the pea puffer cannot crack the shell, the snail shell must be crushed. Otherwise it eats only the soft parts that stick out. This in turn means a slow death for the snail.

The dwarf puffer fish naturally has preferences for his favourite food. The pointed slug likes to be eaten. He rarely or not at all eats the trumpet snail. This is possibly due to the hard shell. In addition to the snails, mosquito larvae, Artemia and Daphnia, and other small crustaceans can be fed.

Frozen food can be fed in between as an emergency solution. Dry food should never be used as a food source, because on the one hand the teeth are not worn out and on the other hand the animals do not get used to it. The diet must be varied and rich.

A one-sided nutrition affects the health and the appearance of the droll animals again. In addition, the pea puffer fish gets “stupid” ideas. It nibbles the fins of its roommates. In order to ensure a species-appropriate diet, it is therefore advisable to have your own small snail farm in a separate tank.

What about the health of the pea puffer fish?

The pea puffer fish is quite robust and not particularly susceptible to diseases. Most of the so-called disease symptoms can occur due to incorrect posture and care. This means that the pea puffer fish feels unwell. He gives this impression very clearly by “hiding” in a corner, the colouring and patterning is less pronounced and his behaviour suggests “unwillingness”.

With such an impression, the housing conditions should be checked. If the water quality is okay, a too small tank could be the reason. The inhabitants of the aquarium do not understand each other. For this reason a dwarf puffer fish can also crawl into a remote corner. Here the socialization with the different species should be checked. With a second aquarium you can get to the bottom of the problem.

If there are more fights over the food, then the amount should be checked. In normal behaviour the higher ranking animals displace the lower members of the species from the food source. The weaker pea puffer fish leaves the feeding area and hides.

Here the impression can arise that this animal does not eat and starves to death. This is a mistake. On close observation, one can see that the lower-ranking specimens come back later and take in food. This ritual is practiced in many species.

Further special features of the dwarf puffer fish

These cute little animals have their own peculiarities as described. Another special feature of puffer fishes is the possibility to “inflate” their body. A dwarf pufferfish or pea pufferfish uses this possibility very rarely. There must be a situation with the greatest danger to life and then this means is used for self-defense. During such extreme stress the pea puffer fish pumps up its body with air. There is a danger that they will subsequently float helplessly on the water surface.

Sometimes they have difficulties to let the air out again. Only after a certain time these sensitive animals calm down and reduce their body size to normal size. One should never provoke such a situation. This process is dangerous to the health of the small fish.


For which aquarist the pea puffer fish (Carinotetraodon travancoricus) is suitable, the experts are not in agreement. One part is in favour of keeping it by beginners, another part insists on sufficient experience in aquaristics. Basically, keeping the species dwarf pufferfish is not very difficult. The water quality, the planting and the size of the aquarium do not make any special demands.

It becomes more difficult already with the peculiarities of the male fish. But here too, the small number of males and sufficient space can help to counteract the extreme effects of territorial behaviour. Some “bad habits” can be reduced or even eliminated with sufficient and varied feeding.

The biggest problem for a species-appropriate keeping is his preference for snails. It makes no difference whether you are a beginner or a professional. The new owner must be aware of the fact that there must be enough live food for this dwarf puffer fish. Ideally a small breeding of food snails is kept in a separate tank. If you have a “problem” with snails in general or with snails as food, you should keep your hands off the pea puffer fish. This partnership cannot work. The owner will be constantly “cramped” during feeding and the pea puffer fish is only kept species-appropriate to a limited extent.

Otherwise this cute little fellow is an enrichment for the aquarium. His funny look with the small fins. The big eyes that “stare and watch” the viewer. Once he stands like a “helicopter” in clear water or he shoots through the area as fast as an arrow.

A socialization with suitable roommates is also possible. This relatively peaceful small specimen offers this advantage over its larger relatives. Basically, keeping a pea puffer fish full of character means many interesting and beautiful moments.

Do you already keep dwarf puffer fish in the aquarium? Write it in the comments and send us your pictures!

Keeping Pea Puffer Fish in the Aquarium – This is How it Works

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